By Tom McCarthy
On Sunday, March 17th, 2019, the National Hot Rod Association hosted the 50th annual NHRA Gatornationals, at the storied Gainesville Raceway, in Gainesville, Florida. It hardly seems like it’s been five decades, but it has, and the race was one for the books: the record books for Harley-Davidson racers and fans. It was three days of fast and furious action, with two rounds of qualifying on Friday and Saturday, followed by eliminations on Sunday – Saint Patrick’s Day.
The first race to hit the record books happened on Friday; after two rounds of qualifying, Tak Shigematsu of Japan was sitting in the #1 spot with a 6.10 @ 233 MPH. That 6.10 was the quickest elapsed time ever run by an NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley (TFH) in competition. While Tak has gone as quick as 6.02 on this bike, with his friend DJ tuning it, this was their quickest ET in NHRA sanctioned competition.
For the two-wheel crowd, also running at this prestigious event were the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycles (PSM). Andrew Hines of Vance & Hines Racing made everyone stand up and take notice of the Harley Pro Stock Motorcycles when he stopped the clock during the fourth qualifying session by posting a stunning, 6.720 elapsed time at 199.67 MPH. This was a new NHRA record for the PSM set and the fans in the stands let out an audible gasp, followed by a rousing round of applause when they saw it.
Not to be outdone, Andrew’s racing teammates, Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey qualified second and 6th respectively. Eddie’s monster 200 MPH speed in qualifying also brought a wild round of applause from the crowd. Eddie is a five-time winner of the Gators and he won the event last year from Andrew Hines, but not this year – 2019 was Andrew’s year to shine.
There were 23 entries in the PSM class; Andrew and Eddie cut through them all like a hot knife through butter. After they qualified # 1 & 2, they just eliminated all comers to meet up in the final round, just as they did last year, but Andrew was ready for Eddie this time. Andrew was first off the starting line with a crisp .019 reaction time to the green light on the tree. Eddie was right there with him, responding with a .020 RT, just a thousandth off Andrew’s launch. Eddie’s 6.762 elapsed time was just not enough to catch Andrew’s 6.758, giving “Drew” a margin of victory of .0111 second. Now that’s a drag race!
As for the Top Fuel Harleys at the Gators, thirteen of the Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harleys showed up to do battle for eight spots on the competition ladder on Sunday. Tak’s 6.10 led the field with a 6.43 bump spot occupied by Jake Stordeur of Ohio.
When racing began on Sunday, it was a huge shocker when both of the big guns went out in round one of eliminations. First off, veteran Bobby Malloy took out the current NHRA reigning #1 champ Tii Tharpe with a hole-shot and his 6.20 was quicker than Tii’s 6.23, to send the biggest dog in the pits packing. Then Rickey House took a hole-shot (.015 RT to .041) and beat Doug Vancil, who was the NHRA points leader coming into this race. With both big dogs sent back to the porch, it was sophomore sensation Beau Layne who stole the show for the second consecutive race thus far in 2019.
Beau Layne qualified #4 with a 6.30 @ 230 MPH; he took out the always-tough Mike Scott in round one, 6.29 to 6.42, then he had a bye run during E-2 after Tak Shigematsu broke and could not make the round. So this sent Beau Layne into the finals for the second time in as many races and he won again, as he did in Phoenix, AZ just two weeks prior to this race.
Beau, of Redding, CA met up with Bob Malloy of Glen Mills, PA for all the marbles, and it started off in Bobby’s favor. They had nearly equal reactions to the starting line tree, Bobby .074 and Beau .076, and Bobby pulled away hard initially but he slowed about 200’ from the launch. Beau Layne laid down a smooth 6.47 to Bobby’s troubled 7.24, to give Beau his second win in as many races.
These two wins by Beau Layne have vaulted him into the NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley championship series points lead. With three races completed of a ten race series, there is still a long way to go in the 2019 season. But it is significant to note that this is the first time in two seasons of racing that neither Doug Vancil, nor Tii Tharpe, are in the points lead. Seems there’s a new sheriff in town in Top Fuel Harley.